I am going to be frank here: Felino Soriano is my favorite poet. Yeah, sure, there's Arthur Rimbaud, there's Charles Baudelaire, there's Emily Dickinson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Octavio Paz, there's Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings,Tristan Tzara....all great poets, to be sure. And among my all-time favorites.
But Felino Soriano, whose name alone invokes poetry, holds a special place in my poetry-heart, because his stuff is so damn original. Indeed, I have been a fan since nearly the beginning of his career in verse. In 2007, right when I started Clockwise Cat, I received a submission from Felino. The submitted verse caused me to exclaim out loud (to my cats, anyway), "Well, if this is the caliber of submission I am getting, then I declare Clockwise Cat a resounding success." I was flattered that someone of his scintillating skill and innovation had submitted to my then-fledgling magazine, and thrilled that his poetry would help introduce my inaugural issue: Issue One.
And ever since then, Clockwise Cat and Felino Soriano have had a symbiotic relationship; Felino credits my encouragement of his verse as an element in his success, and I credit Felino's regular contributions, dating back to that very first issue, as a big part of Clockwise Cat's success. I think the Cat’s habitual featuring of Felino's poetry has magnetized similarly talented poets to the magazine, and as a result, Clockwise Cat has published some of the underground/small-press greats. Just take a tour of our archives for proof.
If this sounds like sycophantic ramblings, so be it. But let the world be on alert that I spurn the use of hyperbole EXCEPT when it's merited - in which case it's not really hyperbole, is it? The point is, I am an unabashed idolater of Felino Soriano’s verse.
In fact, to illustrate the magnitude of my adoration, I did Gmail search back to when we first began corresponding. Of his first submitted poems, I wrote: "The pieces display a complex and playful preoccupation with language that readers are certain to find alluring."
In subsequent responses to his submissions, I described his writings as "geometrical cubist poetry," wrote that I appreciated his poetry's "mathematical complexity and experimentation," and lauded the "unusual and vivid complexity" of his verse. I also acclaimed his style as "wonderfully labyrinthian."
So, you see, I've been a Felino fanatic all along.
On top of Felino being a vivid versifier, he's a charmingly kind individual. He’s a passionate conversationalist about poetry, and also about other topics, such as work, art, music and family, not to mention his magazine, Counterexample Poetics, and press, Differentia Press. He is also supportive of my work and has helped me get my first chapbook published. In short, I think Felino Soriano is just grand. I have never met him in person, but I hope to one day - though I must admit also to secretly hankering to preserve the intriguing mystery of his persona. After all, he’s an introverted sort, a fact that is slyly revealed in his intricate and cryptic lines, as well as in his staggering output of poems. And as if it were not enough that he’s a prolific poet, fantastic friend, and international man of mystery, Felino Soriano is the proud papa of amazingly photogenic baby girl, whose regular appearances on Facebook delight family and friends alike.
So, without further ado, I present Clockwise Cat’s long-overdue, first-ever interview with Clockwise Cat’s Poet-in-Residence, Felino Soriano. This is Part I of our interview. Part II, which will delve further into his poetic process, will appear in the Spring/Summer Issue. (Please note that this interview is completely unedited (though it is proofread!). I have not left a damn thing out, because the man's words are that powerful.)
THE FELINO SORIANO INTERVIEW:
What is it in your personality that makes you so damn prolific poetically ? Are you a loquacious person in real life, or is poetry the way you verbalize things? In other words, are you more introverted and so poetry is the verbal outlet for you, or are you extroverted and poetry is just the spillover from all that?
An easy answer is my fascination with language, —which truly is the foundation. My life is quite structured in the habitual sense, yet collocated with the desire to improvise and find alternate aggregations of time to find meaningful moments of subjective elation. Writing exists within this spectrum of dual identities. I purposely have created an existence of minimal participatory directions. I have a section of life predicated on absolute joy and devotion, which include my family and employment, as these entities are basis for imperative aspects of my identity. Outside of familial and work responsibilities, I ensure to visit with my three other passions, daily: jazz music, studying, writing.
In the context of your question—I will begin with writing (although jazz and studying are paramount, reactive devices etched into the writing, too). To revisit my prior my fascination with language, it does start there, but too, the interaction with the creation of a poem causes the rarity of elation. I write poetry daily, which is the causal formation of what others sometime consider prolific. Since 2006, I’ve written circa 4,300 poems, and all are predicated on the intuitive desire to create an uncommon language that illustrates my environment, understanding, philosophy, vantage point, etc. Those that know me on a more personal affirmation know I am very introverted; this translates into shyness and has been my dispositional makeup since childhood. In the context of writing, the artistic endeavor then, is the realized manifestation naturally desiring to write, juxtaposed with the already innate ability to determine the cultivated comfortableness of being able to stay within.
Language is my fascination, which transcends and translates into an idiosyncratic creation of varied partitions of existence. Within the findings of these partitions, language holds the hand of communication—and good communication, in all aspects of my participatory desires—is what I attempt, daily. The uncommon language of what I speak about earlier is etched into each partition as well; I am not trying to create a language that is misunderstood—as the understanding of what I am attempting is based on giving opportunity for my language to be spoken, and understood. In the framework of my poetry, the construct is intended to deliver differentia in the context of opening an altered understanding of _____________. The process can be easily designed in the explanation of wanting to write about something in plain sight, but describe the something in a way that is uncommon, for the cliché is an enemy of good poetry.
Writing is joy, and this epicurean perspective is the focal examination into the fecundity.
When did you know you wanted to write poetry for more serious reasons? Was there are particular book/author that sparked your interest, or did you have this void that yearned to be filled by an artistic pursuit...or was it something else altogether?
I wrote sporadically in high school—mostly for my then-girlfriends. On 1/1/2000, a strong yen caused me to sit down and write. I hadn’t an idea though, of structural familiarity with poetry, history, favorite poets, etc.; I simply wrote based on the reactive asymmetry of thought and fixation. I’ll indicate though, my writing didn’t become the aspectual, subjective clarity of my now-nisus, i.e. passion, dedicatory, desire, until circa 2006. I should though, recreate occurrences in accordance with your query of particular book/author: back in 2001, I was given a book by Octavio Paz called A Draft of Shadows, and this was first installment of altered understanding for me into the importance of poetry. I kept this book on my writing desk for months, and was fascinated with the language’s music contained there—the swing/sway rhythm of Paz’s angular images changed perceptual configurations, and I desired to improve.
To reiterate, my disposition has a naturalized function of silence; this silence though is the tool I often use to find ways to observe. The eye and creative thinking function as the hands, thus, the immanent focus I have on diligence has played a major role in my output of poetry over the span of these years. Which other authors, fiction and non-fiction, do you find kinship with besides Paz? I too am a great lover of Paz and am reading Draft of Shadows again. Which poets, living and dead, known and lesser known or even unknown, do you find particular resonance with? And why?
My focal interest regarding reading prose is on philosophy. As I mentioned earlier, my primary interest right now is on Heidegger’s work. Also, I am currently reading The Democracy of Objects written by Levi R. Bryant. Engaging with thinkers and their subjective styles of identifying functionalities of experience is fascinating; the language shapes and assists in varied angles of critical thinking.
After philosophy, poetry is what I read most. I identify with poets who create their art through using an uncommon language—those that write for the desire to interact with language, instead of writing for an audience, journal, or publication opportunity. Some favorites include Duane Locke, Pablo Neruda, Heller Levinson, Vernon Frazer, Will Alexander, Clifford Brooks, Matina Stamatakis, Marcia Arrieta, and several others.
You are so fixated on jazz, which definitely reflects in your poetry. But, are there any other musicians who inspire you, either as a poet or in your everyday life?
Music was integrated into my life during early childhood. My dad sang in a band that performed a lot of covers of groups categorized in the funk, R&B, soul categories. I would accompany him often to his practices, and sit for hours, listening. Folks like Kool and the Gang, the Commodores, Rick James, Al Green, the Jackson 5, Prince, Michael McDonald, Smokey Robinson, and others, assisted me in developing a preference to these genres of music.
Until I began heavily interacting with jazz in 2000, my musical tastes were very diverse—but were always predicated on popular music. This was largely due to MTV—as when it began I was in early elementary school—and like for many others, it translated music into a visual component that augmented the foundation of sound. This translation altered perception of music, altered the functionality of it. For many years I listened to more Rock influenced music (Van Halen, for example) during late elementary school and junior high; for a few years I played the drums as well. This time period was followed by an infatuation with hip hop and soul music: A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School, Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey), Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and many others. In terms of musical preferences now, outside of jazz, a simple definition is good music, music that creates a physiological response, and has ability to alter mood and creative affirmations. Some quick examples include Norah Jones, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, and Bilal. What needs to be said is that these artists and others I enjoy are equipped with the ability to challenge predefined definitions and identities—those definitions and identities that others incorporate into a false truth of categorization. Still, while jazz is the dominant musical form I most enjoy, I find elation with other genres as well. What good jazz does well—despite the “purists” limited perspective—is it disallows stagnancy. Currently, I am fascinated with the pianist Robert Glasper. He has released several “traditional” jazz albums, patterned within the trio formulation. He writes incredible original tunes, but also interprets other genres as well, including Radiohead’s Everything is in its Right Place, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (which is becoming a standard), and others. In addition, his group The Robert Glasper Experiment is a dedication to expanding boundaries of musical identities. One will hear an amalgamation of disparate sounds, congregating to create a neoteric display of wonderful music.
When did you start becoming interested in jazz? And how?
In 2000, I had a coworker with an immense catalog of various musical directions. I asked him to recommend me some jazz records; he quickly suggested Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, both of which I purchased soon following our conversation. I need to state in those days, jazz was a strange language to me, as I mostly listened to popular music and radio’s recycling of few recordings. Jazz though, immediately caused a connection in me that functioned as fixation. About that time, PBS was broadcasting Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz which I watched intensely. These two events—the purchasing of Miles’ and Trane’s music/watching Jazz ignited a desire to learn and listen, interact and enjoy.
What philosophers do you feel a particular kinship to? And why?
My current focus is on Martin Heidegger, —particularly his attention to poetry, poetic language, and creative thinking. His devotion to the process of uncovering amid interaction has caused a serial renewed devotion into finding innumerable collocations of words or/and phrasing, leading to unexpected versions of descriptive behavior; this identity has reinforced my own language, and has enthralled the functionality of my writings. His quotation of “Language is the house of the truth of Being.” is a prevalent example of directional function in the context of language’s imperative functionality.
You are a lover of ekphrastic poetry. I too find ecstasy in writing such poems. How did you start writing ekphrastic poetry? Which artists do you gravitate toward, in particular?
Silence requires listening. Many tell me I listen well, and I’m appreciative. This compliment contains the imperative of an aspectual guideline of conversation, —which is the foundational ingredient to my vantage point of ekphrastic poetry. The reactive premise beneath the guiding desire of interaction is what first burgeons, well before the poem’s shape begins. As I’ve noted many times, I’ve been attracted to paintings since childhood; growing up though in Santa Maria—I wasn’t enveloped with many opportunities to engage with art. Therefore, I’d delve into books containing paintings that pushed me into the early significance of the relational camaraderie and preference toward the art form.
In 2009, I dedicated the entire year to composing a series of ekphrastic poetry I calledPainters’ Exhalations. I started in early January and wrote the last poem on 12/31/09; the series finished itself with 886 poems.
Favorites include Vincent Van Gogh, Kim Cogan and Linda Lynch. Many more exist of course, but these names appeared, first.
My desire to engage with others’ artistic endeavors further expanded into the 2010, when I dedicated that year to a series I called Approbations a nearly 900-poem series, interested in interpreting various jazz recordings. Jazz is foundational to my process of writing, as it creates an altered perception and thus, altered language of description. This series differed though from simply having the music playing while writing, as I attempted to interpret each recording, and allowed my reaction of sound to engage with each writing’s varied fruition. I have a form of synesthesia that allows me to translate sound into color—and therefore, the musical accompaniment engages with revealing an intuitive desire to decorate a language with tonal affirmations.
Favorites include Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Charles Lloyd, Christian Scott, Alice Coltrane, and many others.
So where did you grow up? What was life like in the Soriano family?
I grew up on the central coast of California in a city called Santa Maria. I have one younger brother, and I can recall very specific family outings to Yosemite during winter; we’d rent a cabin spend a few days among deer, snow, giant redwoods, and connecting to the beautiful environment. Much of my youth, when not in school, was typically spent outside with friends; we’d ride our bicycles around the neighborhood and partake in other standard activities such as sports or video games. One of the pivotal points in my life—which, in explanation, fundamentally assisted in creating my current disposition—is my dad began teaching me martial arts at age five. I trained until the age of 22, and received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 15. In addition to the physicality of the tradition, philosophy was being introduced to me through the articulation of parallels: language/body, and these together taught the spontaneity and the believability that the body’s language must first listen to the calm resuscitating parables of the mind’s elongated teachings. Applying the mind first toward environment, here, is valid, in that action sans critical thinking can lead to destruction of purity’s foundational intent.
Discuss your travels within and without the United States. How does region (specifically the west coast) play a part in your poetry - either implicitly or explicitly?
I rarely travel. The popular term of “homebody” applied very well to me. Home is comfort in the finding of routine, habit. When these attributes are disrupted, my functionality is unbalanced, regardless of “how nice” the hotel is, for example. I have never travelled outside of the United States, but hope to eventually do some travelling—particularly to the Philippines, Mexico and Europe. I have family in various places throughout the country, most notably in Hawaii and North Carolina. I have been to these states several times, but not in several years. I want to eventually make it back to visit.
Region, in conjunction with availability of resources is foundational to my poetry. The context here is regardless of where I am—if my computer is with me (but also, other tools—pen, paper, surface, etc.) I will be able to create a poem based on environment. Environment is predicated on what the embrace is—what is available to interpret. Environment here is not the political definition, but the proprietary objects asking to be interpreted. Because my poems are dually inspired—environment/jazz music—the reactive behavior outlines outcome through the connectivity to content of the imagination.
I have never met you, but you claim to have an introverted disposition, which doesn't surprise me given your prolific poetic nature. I am more of an extroverted nature, but I do have my introverted side, and it's being cultivated more and more as I age. Discuss your thoughts regarding introversion and extroversion.
The poet Will Alexander said “For me, poetry must be initially nourished in isolation. One must grow to seed in private until it burns its way into the world on its own.” This echoes into my own particular position. I write alone—always have. I have never taken a creative writing class or class on how to write poetry—this is extraneous to me. Perhaps this brand of camaraderie dissolves prior to reaching me, as my anatomy of poetic language is often mis:read/interpreted/understood in the spectrum of contemporary poetry.
My instinctive disposition is encircled by introversion, as this breeds aliveness in its allowance to engage with the various epicurean topics that bring such a heightened brand of joy, in solitude. Like you, Alison, as I am getting older, my introversion is more so an overwhelming identifying aspect than when I was younger. Often, introversion is misunderstood and misidentified in the cultural clutter of predefined labels and definitions; people incessantly attach labels to others that attempt to fit a very narrow understanding into perspective—which is absurd. Introversion is “diagnosed”, often, as habits toward the cultural miswording of “anti-social”—again, absurd. This label has sometimes been attempted to be pasted across my forehead, and I excitingly correct those and this notion. This living inward, is a needed facet of rejuvenation to escape the chaotic, the overly defined through too many identifying people.
I have a small writing room/library in my home that is a needed paradigm of personal space; within it I have all of my books, computer, typewriter, music, art, and photos of family, —all that is required. I ensure to interact with the space daily, as again, it allows for participation in what is needed for me outside of work and familial responsibilities.
I have various attributes to my disposition. When needed, a movement toward extroversion is an easy transfer, depending on context; meaningful conversation is a fulfilling way to engage; also, one of my roles at work is a trainer, as I teach several different trainings for the agency, and I have a passion for communicating information. Interaction also breeds elation paralleling the introverted elation brought forth among immanent certainties of believing in one’s own art.